The high school basketball season has surpassed its halfway mark and there are a number of surprise teams with sights on a league championship and a long postseason run.
Canton, Ann Arbor Pioneer and Detroit University Prep, for instance, entered games on Friday with unbeaten records.
Canton improved to 11-0, 5-0 in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association South Division with an impressive 61-45 win over cross-the-parking-lot rival Plymouth, a team that knocked it out of the districts last year.
Pioneer (11-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference Red) lost to rival Ann Arbor Huron, 73-61, and University Prep (10-1, 4-1) lost 59-53 in overtime in a Charter League game to Harper Woods Chandler Park.
Canton’s 11-0 start is a surprise because it lost to graduation high-scoring guard Greg Williams, who averaged 21.5 points last season to help them to a 16-6 record.
“You don’t expect anything like that (11-0 record), but I felt we had a lot of experience coming back,” said seventh-year coach Jimmy Reddy, a 2000 grad of the school. “We lost our best player in Greg Williams so I expect some people might not have thought we could do what we’re doing because he did a lot for us, scored a lot for us.
“Still, we had three three-year varsity guys back so I knew we had a competitive group of guys. Senior Obi Okoli has been a really good two-way player for us, doing a great job of defending on the perimeter. Logan Ryan, at 6-foot-7, is an inside-out guy who has done a much better job of competing and rebounding for us. And, Jalen Cochran, a Division 1 football guy, is big and physical, does a lot of dirty work and is capable of guarding position 1 through 5.”
Ryan used his size, athleticism and talent to set the tempo in the win over Plymouth, blocking shots, getting steals out of the press and scoring on putbacks and 3-pointers, including one NBA-range deep ball, to help Canton jump out to a 15-3 run, scoring 12 unanswered points.
Cochran was also a force from the start, using his 6-4, 235-pound frame to grab rebounds and score inside. He took a visit to Iowa State last weekend and has offers from the Cyclones and Miami of Ohio as a defensive end.
Then there’s 5-6 freshman B. Artis White — son of Eastern Michigan assistant coach Benny White — who runs the show as the point guard. He averages 10 points and three assists and made three 3-pointers in the first half to help Canton to a 40-26 lead at halftime.
Canton can hit the perimeter shot, having four players make a 3-pointer in the first half. And, senior guard Hamoudy Turfe takes the ball to the basket with great regularity.
Okoli averages a team-high 13 points with Ryan at 12.5 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Cochran averages five points and seven rebounds. But Reddy is more concerned about having his physical presence on the court when March comes around.
“We took it easy on him early in the season because we want him later in the year,” Reddy said Cochran. “He missed the last two months of the season his sophomore year, then got hurt in the conference tournament last year. We definitely need him on the court.”
Canton lost to Livonia Stevenson in the first round of the conference tournament last season, then to Plymouth in the district semifinals. Its last district title was in 2013.
Pioneer growing up
Pioneer coach Rex Stanczak played numerous sophomores last year, knowing the team would take some lumps along the way.
Now Stanczak knows their experience is paying off.
“We were 12-10 last year, started four sophomores and they got better as the year progressed,” he said. “Now, they are juniors and they get it. They are really a team, sharing the ball, playing with great chemistry. It seems like it’s been a different guy leading us every night. And, we really have a lot of guys contributing, too.”
Pioneer is led by 6-2 junior forward Cedric Benton (11 points, five rebounds, 4.5 assists), 5-3 junior point guard Chris McGaughy (11 points, five assists), 6-2 junior guard Deric Murray (10 points), 6-6 junior center Jordan Currie (nine points, eight rebounds, three blocks) and 6-0 senior guard T.J. Roberts (8.5 points). Senior John Kunec, a Division 1 baseball player, is a perimeter threat.
“Cedric Benton has started for us since his freshman year,” Stanczak said. “He’s our Scottie Pippen, brings the ball up the floor for us at times, can do so many things. Chris McGaughy is a dynamic point guard and Jordan Currie is a great defender.”
Stanczak credits Rich Marion for some of the success.
“Rich Marion, who was my assistant for a long time before spending the last three years as Lincoln’s head coach, came back this year,” Stanczak said. “I decided to try something new.
“It’s sort of like football. I have given Rich total control of the defense like a defensive coordinator while I handle the offense. It’s a totally different model than the past when I micromanaged everything. I think it’s working well, almost like we can spend twice as much time on both sides of the ball. He’s a great coach.”
Stanczak thinks the team will get only better when they get back freshman guard Drew Lowder (foot injury at the end of February).
University Prep ready to compete
Yusuf Sabree pointed to a 69-63 win over Detroit Cass Tech during the holidays for helping University Prep to get off to a great start after last year’s 11-10 showing.
“The win over Cass Tech was great for the kids and the program, gave them a lot of confidence,” said Sabree, a 2000 Renaissance grad who is in his third year as University Prep’s head coach. “We have eight juniors and seven played varsity as sophomores. We have an experienced team now and they plan to win, knowing what it takes to win as opposed to playing not to lose like they did in the past.”
University Prep is led by senior point guard Colyn Waldron (14.5 points, 3.5 assists), junior guard Tavis Smith (13.5 points), 6-4 junior forward Terrance Bowens (12.5 points) and freshman guard Derrick Bryant (nine points).
Waldron scored 15 Friday in the loss to Chandler Park. University Prep led by 12 at halftime before Jalen Martin led a Chandler Park comeback, scoring the majority of his 26 points in the second half and overtime.
Pluta reaches milestone win
Don Pluta became just the 12th wrestling coach in state history to earn 600 career wins with Holly’s 45-26 victory over Warren Fitzgerald Saturday.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Pluta, a 1973 Holly grad in his 33rd year as head coach there. “We beat Fitzgerald in the second match of the day, had pictures to celebrate the 600th win with parents holding the sign. That was a lot of fun, but I told the kids we came here to win the tournament. I wanted them to accomplish the win and they did it, which made the day even sweeter.”
Holly finished 5-0 on the day to improve to 17-6 on the season.
Pluta, 60, wrestled at Holly, then came back in 1978 as an assistant before taking over the program in 1983 at 27 years old.
“A huge motivation for me was Bob Varner, who started the wrestling program here in 1969,” Pluta said. “I was a freshman that year playing basketball at 5-foot-6 and he came up to me and said, ‘You know you should come out for wrestling, it will make you a better football player,’ since that was my first love. It was then that I found my passion in wrestling.
“After I graduated in ’73, the first day of the next school year Bob Varner died of massive heart attack. He was only able to coach four years so it was always my dream to come back and build the program that I know he was trying to do.
“It’s a great feeling to get it to where it’s at. You start to think about all the kids who came through the program to help. Without the kids and parents supporting you, it’s not a program. I’ve had great assistant coaches in Mark Mattingly, who was with me for 20 years when we won our first regional championship in 2005 and went on to the Final 8. Then, Joe Walters came on board and we won regional titles in 2011 and 2012. I’ve just been so blessed to have had the group of kids I have over the years.”
By the numbers
600: Career victories for Holly wrestling coach Don Pluta, who reached the mark on Saturday with a 45-26 win over Warren Fitzgerald
30: Points Detroit Henry Ford senior point guard James Towns scored in a 77-62 win over Mumford Friday.
11: Consecutive victories for Canton to start the season, including an impressive 61-45 win over rival Plymouth Friday
Corey Allen, Ypsilanti
The senior guard, a Detroit commit, had 33 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in an 81-39 rout of Ypsilanti Lincoln.
“He’s a man among boys, playing real physical with a high motor, and he took the game over.”
— Yusuf Sabree, Detroit University Prep coach, on Harper Woods Chandler Park senior Jalen Martin — an Iowa State football commit — who had 26 points and 11 rebounds in Chandler Park’s 59-53 overtime win over University Prep on Friday.
Top game last week
Northville 56, Novi 55: Kevin Morrissey made a 3-pointer as time expired to help Northville to a 56-55 win over rival Novi Friday to improve to 11-0 for the first time in 10 years.
Novi (5-5) used a 13-0 run in the second half to lead by as many as five before Northville used a 6-0 run to close the game.
Top game this week
Detroit East English (7-3) at Detroit Renaissance (9-1), 4 p.m. Friday: This will be a battle for first place in the Public School League with Renaissance’s backcourt of Justin Turner and Richard Talley going up against George Mason-bound guard Kamari Newman of East English.
Renaissance has size inside in 6-7 A.J. Jackson and 6-6 Jalen Tobias and East English could be without 6-5 power forward Cedrick Lattimore, who’s playing for Team USA next Sunday in an Under-19 International Bowl football game against Canada in Dallas.